Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, no one is riding roller coasters at the moment. In the interim, however, anyone missing the thrills and scares of steep climbs and falls need look no further than the latest cannabis news. That’s because since “shelter-in-place” orders went into effect across much of the United States over the past month, markets with legalized cannabis industries have experienced many volatile ups and downs.
First was the news that many cities, counties, and states were declaring the cannabis industry an essential service. While this ensured permitted weed operators would not be forced to shut down as a health precaution, it hasn’t fully prevented a crash in sales.
Examining the data from this year’s 4/20, MJ Business Daily reports uneven results. It appears that while some dispensaries and delivery services enjoyed even better numbers when compared with a year ago, others were plagued by issues of access and demand. While missing out the sales bonanza of 4/20 has certainly left some dispensaries, like Chicago’s Dispensary 33, scrambling to think of alternative plans, there are also bigger concerns on the horizon.
One topic dominating the headlines is whether small businesses associated with cannabis will be permitted to access Congressional stimulus relief programs. Excluded from existing options by nature of weed’s status as a Class I federally-controlled substance, the vocal outcry from the cannabis community is reaching new decibels daily. On April 27, a new coalition consisting of thirteen organizations sent a letter to congressional leaders demanding that future stimulus tied to the COVID-19 pandemic be made available to the cannabis sector.
Far from being composed solely of those with a financial stake in the future of weed, the newly minted Marijuana Justice Coalition features civil rights heavyweights like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch as well as familiar faces in the Drug Policy Alliance and NORML.
Big names in the world of politics are also getting involved. Speaking with constituents as part of a Facebook livestream on April 30, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) voiced his approval for federal legalization.
“It’s something I’m going to fight for,” Booker said in response to a question about the current paradox of cannabis being both essential and illegal in the U.S. “This hypocrisy — these drug laws that we have that are archaic and cruel — they must end.”
This hypocrisy — these drug laws that we have that are archaic and cruel — they must end.
Booker is not a new convert to the cause, but the tone of his rhetoric suggests that perhaps the members of Congress who previously supported cannabis for its soundbyte potential are now realizing the issues are more than a cause célèbre.
The importance of cannabis as an industry for both the present as well as the future is also underscored by new hiring data which suggests dispensaries are adding new employees like never before. According to the recruiting firm Vangst, 178 companies that utilize Vangst’s “GIGS” platform have sought to expand their staffing needs since COVID-19 began. The result is a month-over-month growth of 267% from February to March of this year.
The abundance of prisms through which cannabis can currently be examined make it difficult to analyze the picture in its entirety.
At a cultivation level, taxes and permitting are the biggest headache, while from a restorative justice slant, the story remains the unjust incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders. And, for as long as COVID-19 remains the chief focus of our collective attention, the matter of how the industry emerges from this crisis will continue to attract both dire warnings and impassioned solutions.